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Saturday, 1 February 2014

Shock to the cistern

"You ever walk into a ladies' toilet by mistake?" Al asks, as we're towelling down in the changing room at the gym after a fairly ferocious workout. Al is more competitive than he likes to admit. 

"Do I take it you have?" I say.

"Too often in recent months," he says. "I have a theory that it's not my fault. So I was hoping it had happened to you too."

I pull my trousers on and zip them up. "Let me get this straight," I say. "You've started strolling into ladies' toilets but you're not to blame. Are we talking aliens and mind control?"

"Eyesight and stupid signs," he says. "Sailors and mermaids, senores and senoras, damas and caballeros."

He shoves open the outside door and we emerge blinking into a deceptively sunny day, with a hard bite to the air. "Steers and heifers, for heaven's sake," he says. 

"Then there's those modern, trendy, abstract, stupid wiggly little fuckers," he says. 

"Even if I didn't need reading specs, which I do, I'd have to peer at those for ages, trying to figure out what sex they're supposed to be."

"On the plus side, you're still outside the toilet," I say. "I'm not seeing how you take the plunge and get it wrong." 

"It's like falling between two stools," he says. "You know when you miss a three foot putt and get the same shot at the next hole? You don't want doubts creeping in so you rush it, the ball goes four feet past and you miss the return?"

"Of course."

"So now you're steaming. Panic sets in. Your ears are ringing and you've lost all touch and feel."

"Nice sporting analogy," I say, turning up my jacket collar and sinking my head down against the cold. "But I don't see the connection." 

"It's not difficult," he says. "While I have my nose hard up against a door, trying to figure out from some ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic if it's the Gents, bloody woman barges past me and mutters 'dirty old pervert' under her breath, because it's the Ladies.

"Twice," he adds.

"Same woman?" I say.

"Different woman," he says. "Different toilet." 

"Unpleasant," I say.

"Very," he says.

We concentrate on the traffic coming fast from three directions, to negotiate Roman Drive, then pick up the chat when we're safely back on the pavement.

"So next time you rush it and get it wrong?" I say.

"I do," he says. "And it isn't a particularly hard sign either. Angels and demons." 
"I've seen that one and you're right," I say. "Not hard if you're thinking clearly." 

"I'm not though," he says. "And it takes me too long to realise how badly I've got it wrong."

"I'd have thought the absence of urinals would have made it obvious," I say.

"Nothing's obvious when you're brain's just going through the motions," he says. "First I notice the walls are pink. Never seen such a pink place in my life. Then there's the flowers in jugs behind the taps. 

"Finally I realise there's nowhere to take a piss and at that moment the door starts opening inward, and all the blood rushes to my head."

"Bloody hell!" I say. "What happens next?"

"I nearly get it wrong," he says. "My first thought is to hide in a cubicle. Then I realise I could be stuck in there for ages if it gets busy."

"And you'd have to listen to women in a toilet," I say. "Could scar you for life. What's your second thought?"

"Brass it out and walk past her," he says.

"I'd have done that," I say.

"I nearly did, but at the last moment I dodge behind the door. The woman comes in, heads straight for the cubicle and I start to sidle out. But you know what they're like. Asking a woman to walk past a mirror is like asking a guy's eyes to stay away from cleavage."

"She sees your reflection?" I say.

"She does," he says. "But a couple of brain cells flicker belatedly to life and I go, "You'll be all right now, madam. I've got the cistern working again."

"Smart," I tell him, as we turn into the drive of the Bearsden bungalow Al has lived in for 40 years. "Nice recovery."

"But how do I stop it happening again, as my brain slows and my eyesight fails?" he says.

"Don't drink," I tell him. "Avoid public toilets. Get a guide dog, a catheter or a kind lady to take you by the hand." 

"There is always an answer, isn't there?" he says.

"There is," I tell him, as we step inside his house. "Why does your toilet have TOILET in huge letters on the door?"

"You don't want to know," he tells me.

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